Robots are taking over our kitchens, as many mechanical assistants are being created to prepare meals for humans. Earlier this year, a British company called Moley Robotics offered a live demonstration of a robotic kitchen in action.
However, there are still some kinks to work out before robots start replacing humans in restaurants. The robots have a difficult time navigating in cluttered environments like kitchens, and they still need to be able to operate safely around humans. Additionally, some robots have a hard time identifying objects. It would be a real shame if a robot mistakes salt for sugar.
Still, humans are getting closer to the day when robots can cook for us. Moley Robotics has offered a new approach that brings that day somewhat closer. Instead of trying to design a robot that can work in a human kitchen, the company has focused on creating an entirely robotic kitchen.
Many robotics experts have described the Moley Kitchen as a “flexible manufacturing workcell”. But rather than manufacturing mechanical parts, it manufactures food. Most notably, the robot in the kitchen was programmed after the motions of a real life chef, and the robot is designed to mimic the chef’s movements as closely as possible.
While robotic chefs have been attempted in the past, most of the ones that have been developed face the key problem of identifying and obtaining ingredients in a cluttered kitchen. They are simply unable to pick out the needed ingredient when many are presented. And if you have to hand the robot every last ingredient, you may as well do the cooking at that point. This problem is called the “feeder problem”.
Of course, robots are already doing some tasks in the kitchen. One task they’re particularly good at is butchering meat. However, most of these tasks are conducted in industrial settings rather than home kitchens or average restaurants. Most of the current robots look more like food processors than stereotypical robots.
Currently, one could say that China is the leading country when it comes to robotic chefs. Some restaurants have been making use of wok-tossing robots, which are able to cook stir-fried foods when provided with pre-measured and already-chopped ingredients. Another robot has been designed for the sole purpose of stirring pots. Still, humans are needed for more complicated tasks.
As for Moley, the company is planning to release its robotic kitchen to the public by 2017. By then, the company hopes to overcome the challenging “feeder problem”. Either way, it looks like we’re inching ever closer to having real robotic chefs.